1 9 7 0 – 1 9 8 4 (UK)
306 x 60/75 minute episodes
A new season of television dramas under the banner Play for Today was launched on 15 October 1970. It was basically a rebrand of The Wednesday Play, moved to Thursday night, and the series featured original television plays and adaptations of stage plays and novels.
The first play was The Long Distance Piano Player by Alan Sharp, starring musician Ray Davies from The Kinks. Subsequent weeks included works by John Osborne, Ingmar Bergman and Dennis Potter.
Over its lifetime Play for Today produced many classics ranging from Edna the Inebriate Woman, Licking Hitler and Blue Remembered Hills, to Spend, Spend, Spend, Bar Mitzvah Boy, Abigail’s Party (pictured below), Psy-Warriors and Z For Zachariah. The strand also caused controversy with two plays – Scum and Brimstone and Treacle – that were banned for a time.
A number of the plays, including Rumpole of the Bailey and Boys from the Blackstuff, went on to become successful television series’ in their own right.
Some of the actors who appeared in the televised plays over the years included Donald Pleasence, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Ian Richardson, Julie Walters, Liam Neeson, John Hurt, Edward Woodward, John Thaw, George Cole, Frank Finlay, Alastair Sim, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Havers, John Le Mesurier, Hywel Bennett, Warren Mitchell, Thora Hird, Queenie Watts, Patrick Troughton, Fulton Mackay, Paula Wilcox, Pauline Collins, Kenneth Branagh, John Alderton, Joss Ackland, Patrick Magee, Tim Curry, Dandy Nichols, Michael Gambon, Annette Crosbie, Sheila Hancock, Richard Wilson, Jim Broadbent, Leonard Rossiter, Bill Nighy, Anthony Hopkins, Leo McKern, Alan Bates, Eleanor Bron, Jean Marsh, John Lyons, Hannah Gordon, Amanda Barrie, Adrienne Corri, Richard Beckinsale, Martin Shaw, Dennis Waterman, Alison Steadman, Brian Glover, Pauline Quirke, Phil Davis, Linda Robson, Colin Jeavons, Georgina Hale, Geoffrey Palmer, Colin Welland, Peter Firth, David Threlfall and Billy Connolly (pictured below right).
Play For Today spawned the insidiously creepy rural horror Robin Redbreast (pictured below) in which Norah (Anna Cropper), a London script editor, moves to a remote country cottage to rebuild her life after a break-up. The locals seem friendly if a bit odd. Odd turns to sinister when Norah gets pregnant by a hunky gamekeeper (Andy Bradford) and paranoia starts closing in fast.
Lindsay Anderson’s 1972 production of David Storey’s Home, with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, was set in a mental asylum, though this fact only emerged as the story progressed. The hugely challenging message was that the delusions of the psychologically unwell were not so different to those of the broader population.
The star of Abigail’s Party, Alison Steadman, also appeared in the hilarious 1976 play Nuts In May and a frank and harrowing 1975 play entitled Through The Night as Christine Potts, who undergoes an unexpected mastectomy and struggles to cope with the aftermath and the deficiencies of her post-operative care.